Think “reuse” when it comes to back-to-school supplies


Most kids like the idea of buying new school supplies each year, but going back to school doesn’t have to be expensive. Before shelling out lots of dough purchasing new supplies, look at what was left over from last year. You may be surprised to find most notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, and markers can be used again. Use paper bags, leftover wrapping paper, or even a couple layers of newspapers to make book covers.

Reusing school supplies not only saves money, it is better for the environment. Reusing results in less trash sent to the landfill. The plastic found in pens, folders, and calculators are produced with fossil fuels; fossil fuel emissions negatively impact the environment. Paper comes from trees; cutting trees on a massive scale is harmful to the environment.

So think “reuse” when it comes to this year’s school supplies. You can save money and teach your children what it means to be good stewards of their resources at the same time. If you must purchase a few new items, look for products made from recycled paper, plastic, and reclaimed materials.

Learn about other ways to save energy and money at Gundersen Envision.


The Blue Wrap project


At Gundersen Health System we use blue wrap to wrap surgical instruments and trays prior to sterilization. In the past, once the surgical instruments and trays were in the OR, they were unwrapped prior to surgery and the blue wrap was thrown away. Considering that up to 22,000 pounds of blue wrap was being used each year, there was a lot of waste being produced. One of the fixes to this problem was investing in reusable hard cases for the surgical trays. However, since this was not possible for every surgical instrument, we knew that there must be a way to reuse and recycle the blue wrap.

Blue wrap is not made of cloth, it is actually polypropylene plastic (otherwise known as a # 5 plastic). Number 5 plastics can be recycled into items such as caps for bottles or medicine bottles, however we did not want to recycle all of the blue wrap, we also wanted to reuse what we could. We formed a partnership with the Coulee Region RSVP (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program), which is made up of volunteers age 55 and over. Their volunteers handcrafted the blue wrap into items such as tote bags and aprons (as pictured above), and wheel chair and walker bags that are used in the therapy department. The program started in the summer of 2011 and it is still going strong today. By reusing blue wrap we avoid purchasing items such as tote bags, which has enabled us to save money in departments throughout the health system. The most significant savings have been in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/ year. This money can be redirected back into patient education materials. How does the blue wrap project relate to sustainability? By reusing and recycling the blue wrap, materials are kept out of the waste stream. In addition, we developed a long-lasting partnership with a wonderful volunteer program.

We can help you create sustainability projects at your organization. Find out how.

Think “Reuse” and save money on back to school products!


Is your child heading back to school this year? If so, you may be bracing yourself for the high expense of school supplies. There are ways to save on school supplies though. Here are a few ideas.

Before making plans to purchase new notebooks and folders look at the ones your child used last semester. With technology becoming so prevalent, notebooks are not used as much, however teachers still ask that their students purchase them. The same applies to folders. You may be surprised to find that your child’s notebooks and folders are still in good shape with plenty of good paper still available to use. So at the end of the semester, don’t let your child throw out their notebooks and folders without looking them over.

Book covers are also becoming more prevalent. They come in many different designs and materials—but they cost money. Save and reuse paper bags, leftover wrapping paper or even a couple layers of newspapers. Pencils, pens, erasers, and markers can all most likely be reused. Most students like the idea of buying brand new items for the school year, however if they still work, save your money and ask that they reuse them. Going back to school can be less expensive if you pay attention to the products your children use, and be the judge as to whether or not they need new materials.

Reusing school products will also be beneficial toward the environment because you aren’t buying more products like paper or plastic. Why is this important? Plastic can be found in pens, folders or even calculators that students use. In order for plastic to be made, it requires oil, and oil can have negative effects on the environment including harming the atmosphere. Paper comes from trees, and trees are necessary for the environment to thrive and be healthy.

At a time when deforestation is a huge concern, it is not worth it to buy new school products when you could just reuse. Not only would this benefit your wallet but you would also be teaching your children what it means to be good stewards of their resources. So be smart and think “reuse” when it comes to school supplies.

Learn about some of the projects Gundersen Health System has implemented to save energy and money.

Beat the heat: Make your own car windshield shade






During the summer months the inside of vehicles heat up fast, especially if they are sitting outside in the sun all day. Many people avoid this issue by purchasing car shades for their windshields. However, instead of purchasing a car shade, make your own! Making your car shield is easy to do and requires minimal material. So how do you make your own car shade? First make sure you have newspaper or any type of paper and tape it together so that it fits over your windshield. Using a marker or pen, trace your windshield onto the paper and then cut out the windshield pattern. Transfer the template over to a big piece of cardboard. Using a utility knife cut out the shape of the windshield on the cardboard. Add about six inches to one side though to allow you to fold your car shade like an accordion. Next, hold your car shade up to your windshield and cut out where the rear view mirror is so that you can fit the car shade behind it. Once you know your car shade will fit, draw five vertical lines evenly spaced on the cardboard. Fold the cardboard along the lines to make the accordion shape. You can even paint your car shade to add some pizzazz!

At Gundersen we believe that recycling and reusing products is very important. Even the smallest recycling project can make a big difference. Interested in learning how Gundersen reuses and recycles materials? Check out our website at Better yet, attend our Sustainability Management seminar.

Stop by your local thrift shop today!


Have you ever shopped at a thrift shop? If you haven’t, or if it has been awhile, give it a try—you might be surprised at what you find. Shopping at a thrift shop is like shopping at a garage sale. You can find all different types of items for a cheap price. Thrift shops or second-hand stores also make an effort to sell only lightly handled/lightly used items that will still last a long time. Thrift shops sell items ranging from clothes, to cookware, to furniture.

So why should you go out of your way to shop at a thrift shop? First, you can save money. Most thrift shops also support the local community—places like Goodwill and Salvation Army not only sell used items but they also support citizens who are in need of assistance. Shopping at thrift shops helps support the local community. Lastly, shopping at thrift shops supports the idea of “buying local.” Most items found in malls or large department stores were shipped from a far distance, which requires vast amounts of fossil fuels and energy. If more people shop at thrift shops, large companies may get the message that people care about the environment and they want to support the local community.

At Gundersen Health System we believe that purchasing local is very important, along with reusing/recycling items. For example, we reuse blue wrap from the OR that is used to wrap surgical instruments. Instead of throwing it away, we partnered with the Coulee Region RSVP (retired senior volunteer program) whose volunteers sew the blue wrap into items such as aprons and bags that are handed out to patients and visitors. By reusing blue wrap, we save money by avoiding purchasing items such as tote bags for our patients. The most significant savings have taken place in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/year. We also purchase local foods for our cafeteria such as dairy products and meat. Any individual can make a positive impact, no matter how small. So when the time comes to buy furniture or cooking supplies for your college student, save some money while supporting the local community by going to your local thrift shop!

Pay attention to the paper you use


Do you pay attention to the source of your paper products? If not, take a look—perhaps you may discover that it is time for a change. Why? Deforestation has been an ongoing issue for a long time. If trees are not cut down sustainably, there can be major issues to the environment including runoff, soil degradation, and a loss of habitat for wild animals. What does it mean to cut down trees sustainably? There are many ways that include cutting down trees in rows or cutting down random trees scattered throughout the forest. The goal is to leave some trees behind to still support the soil and wildlife in that area.

Today, many companies are starting to purchase their wood or paper products from sustainable sources. This is good news for you as a customer because it gives you the option to choose something that is better for the environment. So what should you look for when it comes to sustainably produced paper sources? Look for paper that has the FSC label or Forest Stewardship Council label. This council is a non-profit organization dedicated to forest preservation. They work with various other groups including the government to preserve our forests and provide people with enough wood at the same time. Another great option is looking for recycled paper. But make sure to pay attention to how much of it is recycled and choose the product that is closest to being 100% recycled. If you don’t, you may end up using paper that is made up of a higher percentage of newer trees rather than reused product. Next time you buy any type of paper product, look for the source and choose something that not only benefits you but also the environment.


Keeping beverage cans out of landfills


Each year beverage cans (otherwise known as aluminum cans) are produced by the millions worldwide. Canning beverages began in the 1930’s after the success with canning food. Like canned foods, beverage cans are also lined with a plastic liner to help ensure the longevity of the product. Beverage cans are easy to transport and they are cheap. Various sizes for beverage cans are used throughout the world. For example, the standard size in the United States is 12 US FL oz. Beverage cans in the United States are made of aluminum while in Europe and Asia they are made of both aluminum and steel. Now that we have covered the basics of beverage cans, what else is important to know about them?

Beverage cans are one of the most cost effective materials to recycle. For example, producing new metals requires a lot of electricity.  Recycling on the other hand is cheaper and more environmentally friendly because you are using less electricity due to the fact you aren’t using new material. So how can you recycle your cans? Start by collecting your beverage cans in a container or bag. Some people use can crushers so as to make more space. It is also helpful to rinse out your beverage can before collecting it. There are many collection sites that will take your cans. Some places will even pay you for the cans you bring in. The cans you bring in will most likely be remade into new beverage cans. Or you can reuse your beverage cans for decorations, crafts or art projects at home. So the next time you buy an aluminum can, consider what you can do with it and how you can keep it out of the landfill.

For more information on recycling, please visit